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Would Lindy Ruff Be A Good Coaching Candidate for the Colorado Avalanche?

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Rick Stewart

Long time readers of Mile High Hockey probably already know my dirty little secret. No, not the Red Wing thing. And no, not the french maid thing. And definitely not that other thing that I can't spell. The truth is, I follow the Colorado Avalanche pretty closely, but am fairly out of touch with the rest of the NHL. I have not watched one minute of playoff hockey this year and I'm not sure I could tell you when the last time I watched a game that the Avalanche weren't playing in. In other words, I am pretty much the single worst person to write about a coaching candidate. But, since I am also extremely thick-headed, I'm going to do it anyway.

Lindy Ruff. Even I have at least heard of the guy. When he was fired by the Buffalo Sabres in February, he was the longest tenured coach in the NHL, even having served longer than Barry Trotz's neck. He began coaching the Sabres in 1997 and while he manned the helm in Buffalo, the Avalanche have seen six different head coaches (one of them twice!).

Ruff was originally drafted by the Sabres and played most of his 691 games for Buffalo with a brief stint with the Rangers towards the end of his career. After retirement in 1993, he joined the Florida Panthers as an assistant coach, working under his former Sabres' coach Roger Nielsen. Nielsen was replaced by Doug MacLean in 1995, the year the Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals (losing to a team whose name escapes me at the moment). MacLean would eventually move on to the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he would become one of the worst GMs in the history of hockey. Meanwhile, Ruff was hired by a new GM in Buffalo, Darcy Regeir, replacing Ted Nolan behind the bench.

The Sabres had immediate success. In Ruff's first season, the Sabres made it to the Conference Finals, losing to the Washington Capitals in 6 games (with 3 losses coming in overtime). Buffalo made the Cup Finals the following year, losing to the Stars (remember Brett Hull's disputed goal?). They have not been back since, although they had two other Conference Finals appearances.

During Ruff's 15 seasons behind the bench in Buffalo, the Sabres made the playoffs 8 times and only had a losing season once (Buffalo ended up at .500 last year, although they were 6-10-1 when Ruff was fired). That consistent success was in spite of the fact that the Sabres generally have been about the middle of the pack in salary and if I need to explain how that would be relevant to the Avalanche...well, I'm not sure I can help you there.

Ruff has a reputation as a hard-nosed coach, which is completely unlike any other coach in the NHL (/sarcasm). It is thought that Sabres players eventually stopped listening to Ruff, but if it takes the Avs 16 years to get tired of his stories in Colorado I'd consider that a success. Seriously, the dude benched Matt Duchene's linemate Taylor Hall during the World Championships so he's not afraid to let you know if you're dogging it, which is definitely something the Avalanche could use. And, while he has a reputation as a defensive-minded coach, his teams have actually put up some good offensive numbers in recent years. That's not to say, though, that Ruff doesn't focus on defense. In Ruff's system, he likes to ask players to play two ways and I think that would actually benefit the Avs. I believe the Avalanche have the nucleus up front to play good defensive hockey, which would theoretically take a LOT of the pressure off of the Avalanche blueliners. And to do that while getting offensive production? Yes please. And, of course, Lindy Ruff has an excellent hockey mustache.

There are, however, some impediments. He has never played for the Nordiques, Avalanche or BU and was never a teammate of any of the Avalanche front office guys. He did play briefly with former Avalanche coaches Tony Granato and Jacques Cloutier. His replacement in Buffalo, Ron Rolston, was a coach at BC...but that's probably not going to get it done. Also, since this is the Avalanche we're talking about, with 15 years of coaching experience, Ruff's asking price is probably higher than K$E would like to spend. That's just a gue$$ though.

Lindy Ruff is an interesting option. I think his proven track record of consistent, hard-working, well-rounded teams would be a plus to the Avalanche. He's a bit of a hard case, which might just be exactly the boot in the ass that the Avalanche players need. His system promotes defense without stifling offense and he isn't afraid of using young players. With that said, the Avalanche haven't thought outside the box when hiring a coach since...uh, I actually couldn't come up with a name there. So, forget I said anything.